The best children’s books about refugees and asylum seekers

Berlie Doherty Author Of The Girl Who Saw Lions
By Berlie Doherty

The Books I Picked & Why

Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

By Hanna Jansen

Book cover of Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You

Why this book?

This is a beautifully written account of how 8-year-old Jeanne d'Arc Umubyeyi (Dédé) escaped the 1994 massacre of the Tutsi ethnic group at the hands of the Huti tribe. Jeanne was the only member of her family to survive. The horror of what she went through is vividly recounted in Jeanne’s words and those of her adoptive mother Hanna Jansen, who adopted her and brought her to Germany. 

It is a very powerful, true, story. I had heard of the Rwandan massacre, but knew little about it till I read this novel. 

I love the book and have re-read it several times. Young adults will identify strongly with both Jeanne and Hanna.

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The Crossing

By Manjeet Mann

Book cover of The Crossing

Why this book?

The Crossing really moved me. It’s an unforgettable story of two young people who suffer extreme trauma and struggle to find their way to a better future. Nat is in England, her mother has died, and in her honour Nat sets herself the task of raising money for refugees by swimming the Channel. Sammy, in Eritrea, has witnessed the political murder of his father and is soon to be drafted into the army, where he knows he will be tortured. I love the way the author weaves their first-person stories together, till we feel the two must meet. Sammy’s desperate journey, with its horrors, hunger, despair, and unimaginable hardship, is particularly graphically told.

I found this story of bravery shocking and frightening, but not without hope.

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Letters from Rifka

By Karen Hesse

Book cover of Letters from Rifka

Why this book?

Letters from Rifka is immediately appealing because the author tells us that it is based on memories.

I was immediately drawn into the story by the engaging voice of the 12-year-old narrator, who writes her story in letter form. Rifka is a Russian Jew fleeing with her family from persecution in 1919. It is a story of a desperate flight, across Ukraine and into Poland, and from there, hopefully, to America. But, so close to freedom, Rifka is detained in a hospital for contagious diseases on Ellis Island, and may not be allowed to travel on with her family. Rifka’s character is so well drawn, her impish, positive voice so lovable, that MG readers won’t fail to love this book and care deeply about the plight of people who are forced to leave their homes forever.

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Kiss the Dust

By Elizabeth Laird

Book cover of Kiss the Dust

Why this book?

13 year old Tara is a Kurd living in Iraq. Overnight her world is turned upside down as her people are under bombardment from the government of Saddam Hussein and she has to flee for her life. It is 1970. Tara and her mother and little sister Hero and brother make a difficult, dangerous overnight journey across the mountains into Iran, but even there their lives are in danger. They have no idea what has happened to Tara’s father and brother, or if they will ever see them again.

I knew little about the Kurds until I read this book. Laird’s sympathetic and well-researched novel took me into the heart of these people who have no homeland, this family, and this teenaged war refugee.

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La Linea

By Ann Jaramillo

Book cover of La Linea

Why this book?

I really enjoyed this Y/A novel about 15-year-old Miguel and his journey across Mexico. His goal is to reach the border in the north of the country, and from there to cross to a better life, freedom from poverty and hunger, hope. The early scenes as he is preparing to leave his beloved grandmother and his friends behind are poignant and touching. Miguel’s character is extremely well-drawn. His descriptions of his country life and his attitude towards his sister 13-year-old Elena, who longs to go with him, endear the reader to this desperate and courageous boy. Imagine his feelings when he realises that Elena has disguised herself and is following him!  The frustrations, dangers, and fears the siblings experience on their journey North make exciting and absorbing reading.

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